A couple of months ago there was a little social-network hype around a clearly non-white guy Jos, who seemed to have forgotten that he wasn’t white and ranted against new immigrants in his neighbourhood. The online community made it very clear to Jos (and each other) that the kind of discrimination he was aiming to defend (which can be summarised as anti-immigrant segregationism) was reserved for white people and that he was just being silly.
I got interested in this story because it shares one important property with the Zwarte Piet discussion: once more, the Netherlands told its people of colour where on the political spectrum they are supposed to position themselves if they are to be taken seriously. And while in the Zwarte Piet discussion, the people of colour were informed that they cannot be anything but offended and hurt by the Zwarte Piet tradition (and all the non-white who felt otherwise were represented as malafide non-whites), now we informed the people of colour that they cannot be far-right Dutch conservatives as this is a political position that can only be occupied by the whites. This means more generally that we are moving towards a state in which the only people who are allowed to actually choose their political stance are – the whites. In other words, since if you have a colour (and you noticed that white is not a colour in this perspective), you are already politically predetermined, it becomes the exclusive right of the whites to freely form a political judgement.
If you understand Dutch, you have probably already seen the clip.
To summarise it for those who don’t, it is about the the Hague neighbourhood Duindorp, where the new allochthonous (= immigrant) people have been reported to be pestered into leaving by some autochthonous Duindorpers. Jos, a Duindorper, is basically making a passionate case for keeping the peaceful neighbourhood “clean” and free from all the chaos and crime that the immigrants typically (and statistically) bring with themselves.
A while later, Jos was interviewed again, in an “allochthonous” radio programme and he apologised for what he had said (but he also burped really loudly at some point, which, I believe, led to a decline in his general credibility). From the same show we learned that Jos is himself a second-generation immigrant and that his father was furious about what he had said.
I used Jos a lot in the language classes I’m teaching. Apart from the linguistic representativeness of his plea, I thought it inspired some very interesting discussions. But, to be honest, I also felt there was something endearingly idealist in his story. I mean, isn’t Jos, in some way, the personification of the ideal of fighting for what you believe in, regardless of how your environment reacts? Isn’t he the Don Quixote of conservatism? And then why would it ever be weird for a second-generation immigrant to identify entirely with the country he was born and raised in? Isn’t Jos what we’ve always wanted everyone to become – colour-blind?
“You clearly have a bit of a colour” – What exactly is wrong with Jos?
Jos’ extremism was doomed to backfire not because it was any insaner than the ones that become widespread, but because it collides with the way we are used to thinking about race, ethnicity and their political implications. If there is any racism in this story, it is not to be found in Jos’ plea, but in the way the interviewers reacted to what he had said.
In the video (around, 0:40) the journalist says: “It may be a silly question, but you clearly have a bit of a colour yourself and now you are saying this kind of things.” Jos responds to this that he’s somewhat of a special case, but that as an allochthonous person, one simply has no business moving to Duindorp, given the crime rates among immigrants and everything.
The logic of the interviewer’s question seems extremely commonsensical, but it is at the same time deeply ideological and – yes – racist. It actually, strictly speaking, confuses race with ethnicity – Jos is talking about the ethnic distinction allochthonous/autochthonous and the journalist is moving to the racial distinction white/non-white. In doing so, the journalist is implying that it’s very unexpected if not rightout impossible for a non-white person to be an exponent of the autochthonous ethnicity.
Moreover, while Jos is basing his judgement of (what he believes to be) statistical evidence, the journalist has no idea who he’s talking to, but simply assumes a necessary link between race and political stance. For all he knows at this point, Jos might be adopted and have no contact with his non-white “roots”. He could also be the offspring of non-Dutch people who decided to abandon their original language and culture and raise him a proper Dutchman. Or he could be an born non-Dutchman who decided to turn into a Dutchman and abandon his original ethnicity. Jos could be – or identify as – whatever. But then there is the journalist who reminds Jos that your race should somehow determine your extremism, and that apparently “this kind of things” coming from a person of coulour’s mouth is somehow more problematic than if was from a “regular” Duindorper’s.
A very similar sort of determinism is practiced by the journalists who interviewed Jos on the radio. There, around 3:20, the journalist says that, when she first saw the clip, she saw a guy who “clearly doesn’t know what his own culture is and is clearly assimilated with the Duindorpers”. The scene is perfect: the journalist sees Jos and she already knows that he has a different culture that he should identify with and adhere to. This logic shares some crucial elements with that of the Duindorpers, but also with that of the all-round right-wing solution of sending people back to their country, even if they were born and raised in the Netherlands. The ultimate consequence of this logic is that, since every allochthonous culture (read: origin of your parents) constrains you to a left and pro-immigrant political agenda, the only people who can really decide what they are fighting for are the racially white ethnically Dutch people, who can go from GroenLinks to PVV and beyond.
In sum, if there is anything harmful and racist in this story, it is not Jos, the lonely representative of jossism, but the national consensus that Jos somehow can’t be saying what he’s saying because we can see him. Denying access to anti-immigrant segregationism to Jos made Jos paradoxically a victim of racial discrimination. But by being so normative about what Jos can be saying, we have also turned anti-immigrant segregationism into something one can be excluded from on the grounds of reason. Telling Jos he cannot possibly defend anti-immigrant segregationism because he’s an immigrant himself (in the discriminatory definition where second-generation immigrants are immigrants) means establishing racial (and pseudo-rational) constraints on – for lack of a better word – stupidity. This in turn means that the stupidity in question now has a silly and irrational version (Jos) but also, and that’s crucial, a serious and rational version – you know, the one that one that is going to form one of the strongest groups in the European Parliament.